Frustrating, but fascinating, LBM is a puzzle of a game in several ways. With a tone that swings from aggravation to black humor to horror, a genre that shifts from slice-of-life to mystery to horror, motivations that are obtuse, and metaphors that are dense, the game may be absorbing, but it may also leave a player bewildered. And, no matter how it's interpreted, the game's notion of what "learning to love yourself" means seems horrifying.
"Alone" plunges the player into a desolate landscape. Its stark, spare descriptions suit the aftermath of an apocalyptic epidemic, but, unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on its characterization of the shell-shocked, exhausted player-character we are introduced to at the beginning of the game.
Nevertheless, "Alone" consistently displays effective game design. Its puzzles lead to each other in a logical progression and establish the game's backstory unobtrusively. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly inventive, but they are engaging and, for the most part, sensible. There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)the player is expected to remove a cash-register's money tray, even though the description of the register tells the player that the PC knows money is useless after the apocalypse.
The game's implementation is just as spare as its landscape, sometimes too spare. The PC can't, for instance, open the door of a junk car or examine the food in a hydroponics lab. "Alone" could also use a lot more synonyms for both nouns and verbs to help the player navigate its environment. Scalpels are not also knifes, gas masks and gas cans get conflated with each other, and panels can be touched, but not pressed.
But, "Alone's" combination of a stark tone, suitable to its environment, and solid game design, which guides the player through the post-apocalypse, works well.
The bleak humor of "HeBGB Horror" fits the frequently-frustrated actions of the player character. The PC may try to emulate his music idols, who all have names like Blitz and Yngvie, but Mayer ensures that the PC's successes will go awry, just as his world will get weirder.
In New York's Bowery district, occult horror and punk music intertwine. Weirdly angled floors and walls enclose sagging, decaying furnishings, used by pierced, drugged characters, who gather to listen to screeching and wailing music.
Atmosphere and wit are plentiful in "HeBGB," but synonyms are not. A more robust vocabulary might help a player better navigate the peculiar problems a wanna-be punk rocker might have with eldritch horrors.
Though most of "HeBGB's" puzzles are clued, many are also obtuse. You may, for instance, have problems understanding the relationship between dried cheese and frayed telephone cords, or distinguishing between the uses of a pin and a pen, throughout this game.
Nevertheless, "HeBGB Horror" is weirdly fun and strangely satisfying.
"The Awakening" creates a sense of dread in a creepy setting, and its puzzles are reasonably clever, but it is hampered by several annoying bugs.
Aside from a few guess-the-verb and guess-the-preposition problems, there are a couple places in the game where you can take items, and then view the same location from a different vantage and still see the items you took in their original place.
Nevertheless, the game's unsettling atmosphere overcomes the distractions created by bits of careless programming.
This short adaptation of one of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories features engaging prose and good characterization, which is odd, because I remember Howard's prose and characterization as clunky and overblown. I suppose all Howard needed was a good editor.
The game itself, however, is under-implemented. Nouns, plurals, and synonyms are missing, making it tough for the player to communicate with the parser. There's even a guess-the-preposition puzzle here, which forced me to consult the walk-through. And, instead of providing clues in the descriptions, the author makes suggestions directly to the player.
Still, this game has interesting stuff in it. One of the game's branches creates a small role-reversal for the player-character. Instead of an NPC following the PC, you follow another character. Fun, but taking this path bypasses the game's best puzzle. There's also a vivid, and effective, action sequence here, a rarity in IF.
I'd say it's worth fighting the parser a bit for a few good puzzles and the excellent writing this game offers.
Much better than would be expected, considering that this game was designed by committee. On the one hand, it contains a few genuinely creepy moments, some clever puzzles and bits of evocative writing. On the other hand, it contains way too many disparate settings and the quality of the design, writing and implementation varies widely between the different story segments.